Even the night before, there were concerns.
Falling snow was accumulating on the Metrodome roof. Windy conditions prevented removal. As Vikings players and coaches were going to bed the night before their scheduled Dec. 12 game against the New York Giants, there were rumblings of potential problems. The Giants, diverted by weather, were bedding down in Kansas City.
Steve Poppen, the Vikings chief financial officer, got a call from the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission that snow levels on the Dome were getting bad. A few hours later, the roof caved in, officially becoming the most powerful metaphor for the 2010 Vikings season.
"We went to bed knowing there could be some issues," said Steve LaCroix, the Vikings VP of sales and marketing. "We didn't expect the Dome to collapse, though. We thought we might have to postpone the game to Monday, needing a day to get back up on the roof during sunlight."
Sunday morning, that all changed. There were flurries of calls with the NFL and the Giants. At breakfast, players were told the news, then met later at Winter Park. By that afternoon, the team was on a flight to Detroit to play the Giants in Ford Field on Monday night.
That was the start of a very strange month.
Two-plus weeks into the job of interim coach, Leslie Frazier had to keep his team together through that trip to Detroit, a home game played on the University of Minnesota's frozen TCF Bank Stadium field, and an extended weather-related stay and a Tuesday night game in Philadelphia.
"Every year I've found myself saying I've seen it all," said tight end Jim Kleinsasser, in his 13th season with the team. "But then I'm always surprised. So I've decided I'm not going to say that anymore."
Tonight the Vikings will make their first appearance in the dome since beating Buffalo on Dec. 5. There is a new roof that allows more light. There is a new field. There will be the same old cacophony from the fans and many of the same issues that have prompted the Vikings to seek a new stadium.
As far as homecomings go, this one might be a mixed blessing.
Season in turmoil
LaCroix pulled out his notes from that weekend to relate a time line. The warning Saturday night, the collapse early Sunday. The meetings. The decision to play in Detroit, which was made just before the originally scheduled noon kickoff.
"You can reflect on all the different things that happened up to that point," LaCroix said of a 2010 season that was already derailed by the time the roof collapsed. It was a strange year that included another late Brett Favre arrival, typical Favre drama, allegations of Favre's texting misconduct and the firing of coach Brad Childress after a one-sided loss to the Packers.
While the playoffs were no longer an issue, the Vikings had won their first two games with Frazier at the helm. Then all kinds of travel broke loose, starting with the trip to Detroit to play the Giants.
"It was a different time for everybody involved, for our fans, for our players, but we got through it," Frazier said. "Our guys stayed together and fought through some adversity and that's part of being in the NFL. ... But the good thing is our guys stuck together and we fought through it, and I think we came out on the other side better for it."
Linebacker Chad Greenway said the Vikings quickly saw how composed Frazier could be during tough times. "He's as steady as they come," Greenway said. "And we trust in what he's saying."
Jared Allen remembers getting a text early Sunday morning from a buddy on the Giants telling him about the collapse.
"I thought he was messing with me," Allen said. "And then I turned on the news and the next thing you know our plane is landing in Detroit. It was actually kind of humorous. I mean, as far as metaphors go, you can't beat that one. "
Said Greenway: "It was a crazy end to a long season. Look at it from start to finish, the things that came about, the way it all progressed. From the moment we walked into training camp until the last game there was something going on."
Now, the homecoming
When it comes to Mall of America Field -- which is how the Vikings refer to the Metrodome after signing a sponsorship deal -- there are mixed emotions among the players. You could see that last week when, while being interviewed on the sidelines in Seattle, Allen took direct aim, calling it the worst venue in the league.
He didn't back down this week.
"It's just a matter of fact that the Metrodome is outdated," he said. "It's the only stadium I've ever been in where I have to ride the vending elevator down to the locker room, where I have to park in the admissions parking lot and walk through the ticket office."
That said, Allen and the players take pains to praise the fans, the noise, the ambiance of game day. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams called it a great atmosphere to play in. Kleinsasser talked about the noise.
"The fans are phenomenal," Allen said. "Imagine what it would be like if we had a nice, new stadium for the fans?"
The Vikings were 18-5 at the dome the past three seasons, so there is definitely a home-field advantage. As Greenway said, the players don't have to deal with any of the fans' gameday problems, whether it be the crowded concourse or long lines at the bathroom. As for any parking hassles or the tight locker room?
"I know it's probably not the best situation for some of the fans," Greenway said. "I know there are some tight spots ... I hear about that from my wife and family.
"But as far as a player? It's as loud as anywhere. We win there. It's a great home-field advantage."